x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Filipinos seeking UAE visitor visas urged to be wary of agencies

Philippines mission is urging sponsors to get documents legally notarised at an embassy or consulate in the UAE, bypassing unscrupulous travel agencies.

ABU DHABI // Filipinos who sponsor visiting relatives are being urged to visit the embassy or consulate instead of a travel agency to have the necessary documents notarised.

The plea follows concerns that unscrupulous agencies overcharge for the affidavit of support and guarantee, and do not require applicants to witness the paperwork.

Officials at the Philippine embassy said the person executing the document must appear in person when applying for notary services.

The affidavit is presented at the airport immigration counter in the Philippines as proof that the traveller is not being trafficked and is entering the UAE legally.

Other documents required include a copy of the sponsor's bank statement, a tenancy contract and a salary certificate.

The immigration bureau has received many reports of Filipinos leaving the country to work using tourist visas when they should go through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

Since August 2010, immigration officers have been ordered to be on the lookout for suspected victims of human trafficking and to stop them leaving the Philippines.

The embassy charges Dh100 to notarise a document, which usually takes five working days. It costs an extra Dh40 for expedited service, which is issued the same or next day.

On average, the embassy processes 70 to 100 affidavits of support a day, according to Norman Padalhin, the vice consul.

Nhel Morona, the UAE country coordinator for migrant-rights group Migrante Middle East, said they would like to investigate the rampant sale of notarised documents by travel agencies in Dubai.

In July 2011, a Filipino on a UAE visa was barred from leaving Manila after he presented a notarised affidavit that turned out to be fake.

The front page of the document, which had the consulate's red ribbon, bore the forged signature of Geronimo Suliguin, vice consul at the consulate in Dubai.

Since then, the consulate has implemented stricter measures. Travel agencies or representatives are no longer allowed to apply for the document on the applicant's behalf. The consulate receives about 100 applications a day.

"We've explained to Filipinos that it's safer and cheaper to apply at the consulate," Mr Suliguin said. "Why settle for something which is not safe but also very expensive?"

The process takes 10 working days at the consulate, reduced to five when expedited.

Members of Migrante UAE have called for the document to be scrapped following complaints.

Twelve community groups in Dubai, including Migrante UAE, launched a campaign and a petition calling for it to be eliminated in October 2011. "It is a form of state exaction and a useless document that does not even guarantee that a passenger will be allowed to depart," Mr Morona said.

Despite presenting affidavits, many Filipinos have been stopped from boarding flights. Some have resorted to bribery.

"We've received complaints from passengers who paid 20,000 to 40,000 pesos (Dh1,690 to Dh3,385) to people with links to airport immigration officers before they are allowed to board their flights," Mr Morona said. "We should put an end to the extortion racket."